The adventures of Charley Boorman
“How hard can it be…” These words spoken in the middle of Alaska on the notorious Dalton Highway for BBC2’s The World’s Most Dangerous Roads are a good insight into Charley’s way of taking life as it comes. He has a compulsion to overcome every obstacle thrown in his way, and these aren’t the comparatively trivial obstacles of the everyday student dilemma.
He attributes being bitten by the travel bug to his role as a child actor. Charley made his debut in his director father’s 1972 epic Deliverance. It was during the 1997 film The Serpent’s Kiss that he met Ewan McGregor, and this friendship developed into a now famous partnership on the TV series Long Way Round. Charley recalls, however, that the decision wasn’t obvious at first, and that tragic family circumstances gave him the final push he needed to go for it: “my sister died from ovarian cancer during that period, and I realised life’s so short. I’d hate to get to 70 or 80 and have regrets”.
His travels are now world famous for his ability to push himself harder each time, even when things go wrong. His encounter with the notorious Dakar Rally illustrates this, after having to pull out to due to injury , he didn’t give up – instead he focused on getting his teammate safely to the finish line. He remembers how it became more than just wanting to cross the line, “Dakar was about overcoming enormous obstacles. We can do so much more than we think we can. Someone told me once, if it goes wrong, it goes wrong, and there’s very little you can do about it”.
He firmly believes the same rules of ‘taking things as they come’ apply to the average family holiday too, “you’re always going to come across something, you just need to push through. Summer holidays: you always remember the ones where something went wrong. They’re the fondest memories you have”. He laughs as he admits that the more travelling you do the more chance you have of things going wrong, but most of the time and with a healthy dose of selective hindsight they turn into the most loved and recounted anecdotes. As he points out, “you never remember lying on the beach, you remember getting totally lost on the ski slope”.
After a cancer scare last year he turned his experience into becoming a passionate advocate for men’s charity Movember. He is also an active supporter of UNICEF. “I’ve been involved with it the longest and I’m very proud to be an ambassador for them. UNICEF are there to look after children in emerging countries – they look after our future”.
Like many child actors, Charley didn’t go to university, but unlike many, he actively chose not to. “I always really really struggled with dyslexia, most people didn’t really understand what it was when I was at school, so I was just called thick a lot, and if you get told it enough you start to believe it. By the time I was 16/17 years old I’d decided school wasn’t something I’d be interested to carry on. Acting in movies gave me an outlet to express myself, because before it could be quite crippling not being able to express myself in writing or on paper”.
Asked if he has any tips for budding travellers, he declares “the hardest thing is to actually do it. Do slightly less and then you’ll actually get a lot more out of it”. He adds with only a hint of irony after a short pause “a good sleeping bag and lots of baby wipes…!” He admits there’s no predicting how relationships between travelling companions will work out, but that it’s “in the laps of the Gods. People are complicated, but that’s the fun thing about travel. And the amazing people you meet along the way”.
His new show Extreme Frontiers: Canada is coming out on the 1st December, 9pm Channel 5, and he admits it’s different: “it’s about getting to know a country and getting to know the people in it”. His experiences both at home and abroad have made him into a role model for many who look up to him for his bravery, whether it be for battling cancer, dyslexia, or for just going out there and having the courage to leave a cosy home.
Charley Boorman Live will be travelling round the UK (including Durham on November 5th). Visit www.charleyboormanlive.com for details.